May 24, 2024

Golden Gophers within striking distance of shaking up Big Ten race

Minnesota Golden Gophers Football

Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck orchestrates his offense before a play during the second quarter against Nebraska Thursday August 31, 2023 at Huntington Bank Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The No. 2 team in the country will invade Huntington Bank Stadium Saturday night, and Coach P.J. Fleck needs to take advantage of the spotlight.

After all, the Golden Gophers will be hosting the reigning Big Ten champs. Whenever Minnesota and Michigan clash on the gridiron, it’s for the little brown jug, which is a very underrated piece of hardware. It just so happens that the Wolverines haven’t lost a Big Ten game since October of 2021.

Still, Fleck is on a mission to earn the best signature win of his tenure. It’s going to be a tall task though, considering the Wolverines are playing like they’re the No. 1 team in the country. Michigan (5-0) blew out its’ first two Big Ten opponents too.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is performing at a very high level. Rushers Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards form the best running back tandem in the conference. Wideout Roman Wilson has the speed and athletic ability to stretch the field on defenses. Not to mention Michigan’s offensive line is one of the nation’s best. The big boys up front have been mauling defenders at the point of attack.

The only way Fleck’s crew can stay in this game, is if they can set the tone early on defense. That means the Golden Gophers’ defense has to stop the run, and force McCarthy to beat them with his arm.

Offensively Fleck needs his unit to limit the silly mistakes, and play fundementally sound. Michigan will have the best defense quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis will face all season. He will need to use his dual-threat talent to extend plays and find open receivers down the field. That’s easier said than done though, because the Wolverines currently rank fourth in the FBS in total defense. Minnesota (3-2) is tied for 101st nationally in total offense, and could potentially be in for a long night.

Special teams need to be on point for Fleck, because field position will be vital. What helps Fleck’s cause is the Golden Gophers will have the home crowd behind them. The two rivals haven’t clashed since 2020, and Michigan has won three-straight in the series. Minnesota last defeated Michigan in 2014, but that was at the Big House.

Which is why all eyes will be in Huntington Bank to see if the Golden Gophers can pull off the unthinkable. Coach Jim Harbaugh should expect Fleck to throw the kitchen sink at his team, and pull out all of the stops. There’s no denying a Minnesota upset will shake the Big Ten standings down to the core.

The Wolverines are three-touchdown favorites, but the games aren’t played on paper. So the College football world will watch to see if Fleck has another miracle up his sleeve. The Golden Gophers haven’t beat a top-10 team in conference play since 2019, and their fans are ready to end the drought.